A sparkling debut collection from a Pushcart Prize–nominated poet that makes an ecstatic argument for living
A sparkling debut collection from a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet that makes an ecstatic argument for living
Containing joy and suffering side by side, Ramshackle Ode offers elegies and odes as necessary partners to bring out the greatest power in each. By turns celebratory, meditative, tender, and rebellious, these poems reimagine the divisions and intersections of life and death, the human and the natural world, the brutal and the beautiful. Time and again, they choose hope.
From an award-winning young poet in the tradition of Marie Howe, Walt Whitman, Gerald Stern, and contemporary American bard Maurice Manning, Ramshackle Ode presents a new voice singing toward transcendence, offering the sense that, though this world is fragile, human existence is a wonderfully stubborn miracle of chance.
That half-moon smooth beam,
I think someone made it because
they had a spine and wanted
to make a stronger one,
and they sent the little skiff
out to sea for years,
and it went on boot-thudded
and it went on boot-thudded
and shoal-scraped, and it held
all the while like it holds
in the boatyard, though
it is belly-up on blocks
to keep out the rain, now,
and it does rain here,
and did again this morning
when I was walking your dog,
Love, thinking how I, too,
have been boot-thudded
by love, I was my own
storm once, so young
and eager to raise the sail
of my wanting, and I just wanted
to tell you I love this old boat,
this settled-in thing.
Though the rain tastes like nickel
it is not blood, but like blood
makes the child, rain plumps
the melons beneath thick leaves
this summer, and each summer,
and it’s a genius I rarely think of,
this world swelling, the hay field
rising, and I was not ready
for my love to be suddenly
amplified by the ultrasound,
but it was, the little heart drummed
over the speakers, and the room
swelled, and it hurt the good hurt,
and though the June bugs
beat against the night, the sound
is not a heart, but like the heart
it is dumb in its brazen pulse
and smack-the-screen joy,
and like the heart there are billions
here, each alive and mostly well,
here, where two legs pressed
against two legs become six legs —
and that is not an impossible math.
I could believe the world only wants
to double. The hay field rising
into seed. The June bugs’ dumb love
lifting the night to its feet.
BECOMING THE BOY
First, let me admit I am a counterfeit.
A sleek composite. The fourth
meal of the day is paraphernalia.
Which is another way to say, I learned
how to man, and I worry
when I’m not careful, I drown out
the seven parts of me
with one abominable baritone. Should
sounds so much like shove,
doesn’t it? It gutters the cold rain
and dumps it on your head.
The soil grows whatever it’s fed.
Everything entering the ear takes root.
And speaking of dirt, think
of the dandelion weed — those
little puffs blundering the backyard
with their furry spray lifting to flight.
All it takes is a weak fiasco of wind.
But first, the bulb must bloom yellow —
and pretty even — from a knot
as tight as solitude. And still it scatters
like a fist of warm dice. You too
began curled and cooed awake,
then some blue lung began to chant
a boy should this and a boy should that,
and you shouldn’t listen, little
corn-shuck, it’s a strange song,
mostly sad and hard to dance to.
STRAWBERRIES FOR DINNER
Good for the strawberry
for wearing all its seeds on its skin —
too few things say here’s all of me
like that — not the apple
and its wooden center stones,
not the peach’s chipped-tooth pit,
not me in my muddy work shirts,
which I generally ditch
after slumping home at the end of the day
the instant I hear the front door click.
So tired I become working days like this,
I could believe the mime’s
gloved hands pressed against
the almost plastic case
placed one foot around him.
Limit is a cocky fellow:
a pallbearer in a vibrant suit.
He named his daughter Bootstrap.
He loves the word “retirement.”
He thinks the myth of Icarus
should be printed on the back
of every birth certificate.
That’s a cautionary tale I think
he’s wrong about. The boy fell. He did.
But what about the blooming hurt
gnawing at his shoulders as he rose?
It must have been excruciating.
His comfort melted long before the wings.
There must have been a moment
he could go no further,
and yet, he did.
"Intriguing and triumphant, Leonard’s collection embodies the subject matter it so aptly depicts, whether it’s a storm or steeple or meadow."—Booklist
"In his lovely first collection, Pushcart Prize nominee Leonard offers poems both tough and tender about becoming a man—effectively so, as these works are not full of false bravado but touching reflection...Charmed and sturdy poems for a wide range of readers."—Library Journal
"Keith Leonard’s Ramshackle Ode is a brilliant, heart breaking, sometimes funny, always surprising celebration of love and attachment, of all the ways our connection to others—friends, lovers, children—makes us hostages to fortune. The force of imagination and the urgent desire to praise, to care for and cultivate is always at every point tested by the equal force of depredation and defilement. This is a terrific and memorable first book. Leonard’s voice is powerfully distinct and fresh, and it’s one I’m sure we’ll be hearing with gratitude for years to come."—Alan Shapiro
"The poems in this solid collection offer praise for the everyday world, even if coming to terms with that world entails a measure of surrender. That world is given to us, we are included in it, and yet the heart and the mind must be pried open in order to receive and realize how much of that world may lie beyond us. Poetry is the ages-old means to see beyond, to glimpse what’s out there and to praise even what we don’t yet know. These poems do not linger on grief; instead, they reveal a heart that has been opened to love and a mind flung out to wonder. That is the solemn human journey. No rest for the wicked, is the common expression. No rest for the joyful and compassionate either. That is the discovery these poems field, like pop-flies and grounders in a backyard baseball game played so long ago in youth it has the resonance of myth. These poems have earned their wisdom, and this book is a gift I happily hold in my hands."—Maurice Manning
“If you want to know what the good, serious, work—by which I mean digging and plowing and axing and building and sewing and holding—of joy—which includes, yes, no kidding, sorrow, loss, heartbreak, the whole abundant mess—might make of the world, of a family, of a life—goddamn, goddamn—I think this book might give you an idea. It’s kind of the hardest work, joy. Which makes Ramshackle Ode one of the hardest working books I’ve read in a long time.”—Ross Gay
“Ramshackle. Synonyms: neglected, gone to rack and ruin, beat-up—and aren't we? Isn't our house in tumbledown? Somedays it seems it's all getting to be too much now, that you're beat up just by living. Ramshackle Ode is more than a great book of poems, it's a tent revival, a people's sweaty redemption. Keith Leonard has come right in the nick of time to remind us: inside each our hearts thumps an ecstatic hot night of healing, and raise that tambourine! —hallelujah be, there's still a song, goddamnit there's still a chance to sing.”
—Rebecca Gayle Howell
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